8 locations for royal burials in London…2. St Clement Danes…

This “island church”, located in the middle of the Strand just outside the Royal Courts of Justice, is believed to have been the eventual burial site of King Harold I “Harefoot” who died in 1040.

St Clement Danes today. PICTURE: eltpics (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The son of King Cnut, Harold’s rule was brief. Following the death of his father, he initially ruled as regent on behalf of his father’s heir and younger half-brother Harthacnut (Harthacnut was in Denmark and threats to the kingdom meant he couldn’t leave).

While Harold had apparently sought to be crowned king from the start of his rule (without success thanks to the opposition of Aethelnoth, the Archbishop of Canterbury), it was only in 1037 that, with the support of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia, and other nobles, he was crowned king.

But Harold (who was known by the name Harefoot apparently due to his speed and skill at hunting) died in 1040 and his brother subsequently returned from Denmark to claim the throne peacefully.

The story goes that King Harold had originally been buried in Westminster but that Harthacnut (clearly not a fan) had his body exhumed and flung into marshlands by the River Thames. The body was said to have been found by a fisherman who then had him buried at the church.

It had been established in the ninth century to serve the Danish community which was established after King Alfred the Great had granted them land.

Of course, the current church was not one King Harold would have recognised, having last been completely rebuilt in the 1680s to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren (and then having had its interior completely restored after it was gutted when bombed during World War II).

St Clement Danes, also known as one of the contenders for the church mentioned in the song Oranges and Lemons, is now the central church of the Royal Air Force. It’s one of two “island churches” in the Strand, the other being St Mary le Strand.

WHERE: St Clement Danes, Strand (nearest Tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden and Holborn); WHEN: 10am to 3:30pm weekdays; 10am to 3pm weekends; COST: Free (donations appreciated); WEBSITE: https://stclementdanesraf.org

8 locations for royal burials in London…1. (Old) St Paul’s Cathedral…

Following the laying to rest of Queen Elizabeth II in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, we’re taking a look at where some royal burials have taken place within London.

St Paul’s Cathedral. PICTURE: Catalin Bot/Unsplash

We start our new series with Old St Paul’s Cathedral which believed to have been the burial site of two Anglo-Saxon kings before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Aethelred (Ethelred) the Unready, who ruled from 978 until 1013 (and then again from 1014 until his death on 23rd April, 1016) was known to have been buried in the quire of the old cathedral (it’s marked on Wenceslaus Hollar’s 1658 plan of the cathedral as being on the northern side of the quire, just past the north transept) but his tomb was lost in the fire.

His memorial is among those which were lost in the Great Fire mentioned on a modern plaque in the crypt of the St Paul’s of today.

PICTURE: Stephencdickson (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0‘/cropped and straightened)

While his was the last royal burial to take place in St Paul’s, Aethelred wasn’t the only Anglo-Saxon king who was interred there.

Sæbbi, a king of the East Saxons who ruled from 664 to 694 (and is also known as Sebba or Sebbi), is also listed as being buried there (Aethelred was apparently buried close to him) and his grave also lost in the great fire.

There’s a story that when Sæbbi was about to be buried in a stone coffin, it was found it was too short for his body to lie at full length. Various solutions were proposed – including burying him with bent legs, but when they put the body back in the stone coffin this time, miraculously, it did fit.

Following an earlier fire in St Paul’s – in 1087 – Sæbbi body was transferred to a black marble sarcophagus in the mid-1100s and it’s that which was lost in the Great Fire.

LondonLife – Light trails by St Paul’s…

PICTURE: Jason Hudson/Unsplash

This Week in London – New COVID memorial entrance portico at St Paul’s; observation wheel a centrepiece of new Somerset House festival; and newly acquired 16th century works at The National Gallery…

A new entrance to a memorial dedicated to those who died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has opened at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Remember Me memorial entrance portico, which is accessed through the cathedral North Transept door, has been designed by Caroe Architecture with Connolly Wellingham and is an elliptical structure made from British Oak into which the words ‘Remember Me’ have been etched in gold. It leads through to the Middlesex Chapel where a digital book of remembrance can be accessed. The inner portico is the first project of its kind to be built inside St Paul’s for nearly 150 years and this is the first time the North Transept of the cathedral has been used as a permanent entrance since this part of the cathedral was bombed during World War II. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk/remember-me-memorial.

A temporary 35 metre high observation wheel providing new views of London is being placed in Somerset House’s central open-air courtyard as part of a new cultural festival which kicks off Monday. This Bright Land features art installations and a programme of events featuring everything from music and dance performances through to workshops and talks. As well as the wheel, the courtyard will host a ‘Wonder Garden’, a soundscape installation telling Londoners’ stories, a futuristic custom-built ‘Clubhouses’ where complimentary make-up services will be provided, and a pop-up experimental zone which will feature immersive installations and complimentary light treatments. The month-long festival, which runs until 29th August, will also include a series of open air balls and parties at night as well as weekly family-friendly activities. There is free daytime entry on weekdays and pay-what-you-can entry on Monday to Thursday evenings and Saturday daytimes. Charges apply for special events and observation wheel rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk/whats-on/this-bright-land.

Two 16th century works have gone on display in The National Gallery for the first time following their acquisition.  Paolo Veronese’s ful-length Portrait of a Gentleman of the Soranzo Family (about 1585) can be seen in Room 12 while Lo Spagna’s Christ Carrying the Cross (perhaps 1500–5) can be seen in Room 61. Admission to the gallery is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Send items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com

What’s in a name?…St Swithin’s Lane…

Looking south down St Swithin’s Lane near the intersection with Cannon Street. PICTURE: Courtesy of Google Maps.

This narrow City of London pedestrian laneway, which runs south from King William Street to Cannon Street, bears the name of the Church of St Swithin London Stone.

The medieval church, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Great Fire of London only be badly damaged in the Blitz and finally demolished in 1962, was located on the corner of the laneway’s intersection with Cannon Street.

St Swithin (also known as St Swithun) was a ninth century Bishop of Winchester while the other part of the church’s moniker – London Stone – comes from the fact the ancient stone was formerly located opposite the church.

The church was the resting place of Catrin Glyndŵr, wife of the rebel Edmund Mortimer and daughter of Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr, who, after being held in the Tower of London, died in mysterious circumstances (there’s a memorial to her in a garden on the former site of the church).

Famous Londoners – Great Paul…

The bell casing used by Taylor’s Bell Foundry to cast Great Paul in Loughborough. PICTURE: Phil McIver (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Not the name of a person, Great Paul is in fact the name of the largest of four bells in south-west tower of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The south-west tower at St Paul’s Cathedral which contains Great Paul. PICTURE: jan buchholtz (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The bronze bell was cast in 1881 by JW Taylor of Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough. With a diameter of some 11 metres, it weighs an impressive 16.8 tons (in fact, until the casting of the Olympic Bell for the 2012 London Olympics, it was the largest bell in the UK).

Brought to London from Loughborough on a train over a period of 11 days, Great Paul was hung in the tower in May, 1882.

The bell was traditionally sounded at 1pm every day but was silent for more than 40 years after its ringing apparatus broke in the 1970s.

Following a restoration, Great Paul started being rung again last year when it was rung during a festival of church bells to mark the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this year, it led a bell ringing tribute marking Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Previous historic occasions on which the bell was rung included Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the cathedral in 1981.

The south-east tower of the cathedral is also home to the storied bell known as Great Tom – but we’ll deal with that in a future post.

A Moment in London’s History – The martyrdom of St Alphege…

This month marks the 1010th anniversary of the murder of Alphege, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by Vikings in Greenwich.

St Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, is asked for advice in this early 15th century manuscript from Paris.

Alphege, also known as Ælfheah and Alfege, had been kidnapped from Canterbury during a Viking raid in September, 1011. Alphege’s captors were said to have been seeking a huge sum for his ransom – some 3,000 gold marks, reports the monk Osbern – but that, knowing such a sum would bring starvation upon the people under his care, he refused to allow himself to be ransomed – for money or anything else – and this drew the anger of his captors.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, one day, seven months after his kidnapping – on 19th April, 1012, the Vikings were drunk and, had the elderly archbishop brought before their assembly. Then, in an act of execution, they began throwing ox bones and heads at the unfortunate archbishop before one of them struck him on the back of the head with the butt of an axe, killing him.

According to tradition, the murder took place on the site of St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. A contemporary account also tells that a Viking lord named Thorkell the Tall, a Christian convert, had tried to save the archbishop’s life – offering everything he owned except his ship in exchange for the cleric’s life – but failed (interestingly, so appalled was Thorkell at the murder that he switched sides and fought for the English king Ethelred the Unready following Alphege’s death). There is also an account that the fatal blow was actually delivered by a Christian converted named Thrum as an act of mercy.

Alphege’s body was recovered and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. In 1023, the body was moved by King Cnut to Canterbury in a gesture of goodwill to the English. The first Archbishop of Canterbury to meet such a violent end, he was canonised in 1078.

There is a memorial stone to the saint set in the floor in front of the altar in the Greenwich church.

This Week in London – 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture in British Museum exhibition; Surrealism’s influence explored; and, new sculpture at St Paul’s…

Burton Agnes chalk drum, chalk ball and bone pin (3005 – 2890BC). PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum 

• A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture – described as “the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years” – has gone on show at The British Museum as part of its The world of Stonehenge exhibition. The sculpture was unearthed by members of Allen Archaeology during a routine excavation on a country estate near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire in 2015. Uncovered alongside the burial of three children (it had been placed near the head of the eldest child and included three hastily added holes possibly to represent the children), the sculpture is decorated with elaborate motifs that the museum said “reaffirms a British and Irish artistic style that flourished at exactly the same time as Stonehenge was built”. The sculpture is similar to three barrel-shaped cylinders made of solid chalk – dubbed the ‘Folkton drums’ due to their shape – which have been in the museum’s collection since they were unearthed in the excavation of a child burial in North Yorkshire in 1889. It is thought the items are works of sculptural art rather than intended to serve a practical purpose and were perhaps intended as talismans to protect the children they accompanied. Radiocarbon dating of the Burton Agnes child’s bones identifies the burial as from 3005–2890 BC. The world of Stonehenge can be seen until 17th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/stonehenge.

The Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition at Tate Modern, 2022, ©Tate

Spanning 80 years and 50 countries, a new exhibition opening at the Tate Modern today takes an in-depth look at how Surrealism has inspired and united artists around the globe. Surrealism Beyond Borders, running at the Tate in partnership with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, features more than 150 works ranging from painting and photography to sculpture and film, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Among the highlights Cecilia Porras and Enrique Grau’s photographs, which defied the conservative social conventions of 1950s Colombia, and paintings by exiled Spanish artist Eugenio Granell, whose radical political commitments made him a target for censorship and persecution. There’s also iconic works such as Max Ernst’s Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924) and lesser known, but significant, pieces such as Antonio Berni’s Landru in the Hotel, Paris (1932), and Toshiko Okanoue’s Yobi-goe (The Call) (1954). Runs until 29th August in the Eyal Ofer Galleries. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/surrealism-beyond-borders.

A “bold” new artwork by Nigerian-born artist, Victor Ehikhamenor, has gone on display in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. The specially-commissioned mixed-media work is part of 50 Monuments in 50 Voices, a partnership between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Department of History of Art at the University of York which involves inviting contemporary artists, poets, musicians, theologians, performers and academics to respond to 50 historic monuments across the cathedral. Still Standing combines rosary beads and Benin bronze hip ornament masks to depict an Oba (King) of Benin and was made in response to a 1913 brass memorial panel commemorating Admiral Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson (1843-1910) which is in the Nelson Chamber of the Cathedral’s Crypt. Rawson had a long career in the Royal Navy which culminated in his commanding the Benin Expedition of 1897. The work is on show until 14th May. Admission charge applies. For more, head to https://pantheons-st-pauls.york.ac.uk/50-monuments-in-50-voices/.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com

10 historic stairways in London – 6. The Geometric Staircase, St Paul’s Cathedral…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Known more formally as the Dean’s Staircase, this spiral staircase was designed by none other than Sir Christopher Wren and provides access to the triforium in St Paul’s Cathedral.

The staircase – each step of which is embedded into the wall – was built between 1675 and 1710 in the cathedral’s south-west tower by William Kempster. The ironwork is by famed French metal worker Jean Tijou.

Located in the south-west bell tower, the stair’s 88 Portland stone steps rise some 50 feet.

The staircase, which can be seen on the cathedral’s guided tours including triforium tours, has become famous in recent years thanks to its appearance in the 2004 Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, as well as Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film Sherlock Holmes.

The staircase has also been the site of art installations including Antony Gormley’s Flare II – which featured a falling figure within a cloud of wire.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £21 adults/£18.50 concessions/£9 children/£36 family (these are walk-up rates – online advanced and group rates are discounted); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk (for tours, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits/guided-tours)

Treasures of London – Wren’s Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral…

PICTURE: Andrea Vail (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Housed now in the building it depicts, the Great Model of St Paul’s Cathedral was created by architect Sir Christopher Wren to show King Charles II what his proposed grand new English Baroque cathedral would look like (following the destruction of the medieval cathedral in the Great Fire of 1666).

Made of oak, plaster and lime wood, the model was made by William Cleere to Wren’s design in between September, 1673, and October, 1674, at a scale of 1:25. It measures 6.27 metres long, 3.68 metres wide and more than four metres tall, making it one of the largest in the UK.

The model, which cost about £600 to make – an extraordinary sum which could apparently buy a good London house, was designed to be “walked through” at eye level and, as well as being a useful way to show the King what the proposed building would look like, was also something of an insurance policy in case something happened to Wren.

It was based on drawings made by Wren and his assistant Edward Woodroofe on a large table in the cathedral’s convocation or chapter house (later demolished in the early 1690s) and was originally painted white to represent Portland stone with a blue-grey dome and gilded details.

There are some differences between the model and the finished cathedral – among them was a substantial extension of the quire, double-height portico on the west front, and, of course, the bell towers on the west front which were made in place of the cupola which was located halfway down the nave on the model.

Part of an earlier wooden model from 1671 also survives – it was apparently lost for many years and rediscovered in 1935.

The Great Model can be seen on tours of the Triforium.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Mansion House and Blackfriars); WHEN: 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday; COST: £21 adults/£18.50 concessions/£9 children/£36 family (these are walk-up rates – online advanced and group rates are discounted); WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk (for tours, head to www.stpauls.co.uk/visits/visits/guided-tours)

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 5. Henry Purcell’s grave in Westminster Abbey…

Westminster Abbey. PICTURE: Clark Van Der Beken/Unsplash

Westminster Abbey is important for many reasons when it comes to London’s musical heritage but among them is the intrinsic connection the grand building has with Restoration-era composer and musician Henry Purcell.

Purcell, who was born in Westminster in 1659 and who died there in 1695, is famous for having composed music in a range of genres including the first English opera as well as being the organist of the Westminster Abbey (from 1679) and that of the Chapel Royal (from 1682).

Statue commemorating Henry Purcell. PICTURE: Eluveitie (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fittingly, Purcell, who died at the age of just 36 leaving a widow and six children behind, was buried beside where the organ was then located in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. The grave, which also contains the remains of his wife Frances, is inlaid with brass letters written in Latin.

It reads: “Here rests Henry Purcell, Organist of this Collegiate Church. Died 21 November aged 37, A.D. 1695. Immortals, welcome an illustrious guest, your gain, our loss – yet would not earth reclaim the many-sided master of his art, the brief delight and glory of his age: great Purcell lives! his spirit haunts these aisles, while yet the neighbouring organ breathes its strains, and answering choirs worship God in song. Frances, wife of Henry Purcell, is buried near her husband 14 February 1706.”

A memorial tablet to Purcell was erected on a nearby wall by Dame Annabella Howard, a former pupil of Purcell’s. The inscription in English and Latin “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded. Died 21 of November in the 37th year of his age, AD 1695”.

There is also an elaborate statue, The Flowering of the English Baroque, commemorating Purcell located just down the road from the Abbey in Christchurch Gardens, Broadway. Designed by sculptor Glynn Williams, it was unveiled by Princess Margaret on the tercentenary of the death of the composer – 22nd November 1995.

10 Questions – John Brodie Donald, Lost London Churches Project…

John Brodie Donald, the creator of the Lost London Churches Project, talks about how the project came about, its aim and his personal favourite “lost” church…

1. First up, when you talk about London’s “lost churches”, what do you mean by the expression?
“Of the 108 churches in the City of London in 1600 only 39 remain. The rest have been lost in the last 350 years, either destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 or in the Blitz or demolished by commercial developers as property prices soared.”

2. What is the aim of the Lost London Churches Project?
“The Lost London Churches Project aims to promote interest in the ancient church buildings and parishes of the City of London through collectable cards, books, maps and downloadable explorers walks. We have created a ecclesiastical treasure hunt – a way of exploring the history of the square mile that costs nothing and can be easily fitted into a few spare lunchtimes.”

3. How many churches are included in the project?
“There are 78 churches for which collectable cards have been produced and these are available in a growing number of churches in the City. It is hard to find evidence of what the churches lost in the fire of 1666 looked like, but hopefully after further research these will be included in a second edition. “

4. Does the project cover every “lost” church in the City of London?
“It covers not just ‘lost’ churches but also the extant ones for two reasons. First, because those who are collecting the cards need a place to pick them up which they can do in the churches that still exist. Secondly, although the church buildings were lost, the parishes still remain to this day for administrative reasons. Every one of the 109 churches still has a parish clerk. The parishes have been amalgamated with the existing churches. So, for example, St Vedast in Foster Lane is a church of 13 united parishes having acquired them as the church buildings were lost over the centuries.”

5. Tell us how the Lost London Churches Project came about?
“It all started when I was redrawing the Ogilby and Morgan map of 1676 in colour for my own pleasure. This large scale map (100 feet the inch) shows every single house in the City of 350 years ago. It was completed just after the Great Fire and so shows the location of all the lost churches clearly. The original covered 20 separate black and white sheets but I redrew them all joined together in colour on my computer. The end result was so huge it was impractical to print…So it made sense to break it up and publish in a book, and since the most interesting information in the map was the churches lost in the fire. it became the basis for the collectors book for the Lost London Churches project. At the same time, I was going through my late father’s papers and found a booklet of cigarette cards that he had collected in the 1940s. He also had a passion for painting watercolours of churches.  That’s when I had the idea of producing a series of ‘cigarette cards’ showing the lost churches and the project was born.”

6. What’s the role of the cards? 
“The role of the cards is to give some tangible treasure to collect while exploring the lost churches. Like trading cards or Pokemon the challenge is – can you collect them all? In every participating church you will be able to pick up that church’s card along with a pack of five random cards for a small voluntary donation. Cards are also available from the project’s website lostlcp.com.”

7. You mentioned earlier that there were a number of ways the City of London’s churches become lost?
“They were lost in three phases. Around 85 were destroyed or damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 of which 34 were never rebuilt. The others were rebuild by Christopher Wren, along with St Pauls Cathedral. Then 26 more churches were lost after the Union of Benefices Act of 1860 triggered a second wave of demolition. The purpose of the act was to combine parishes and free up space for the swelling capital of the British Empire. Lastly, the City suffered badly in the Blitz of World War II which took a further toll on these ancient buildings.”

8. How easy is it to spot remnants of the City’s lost churches?
“Though the buildings are lost, the parishes remain and you can still see the old parish boundary markers even on modern buildings. The best place to see an example of these is to walk down Cheapside along the New Change shopping centre towards the church of Mary le Bow. In only 100 or so yards you will have crossed the boundaries of five different parishes; St Vedast Foster Lane, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Westcheap, All Hallows Bread Street and St Mary Magdalene Milk Street. As you walk down the street look up above the shops ( see picture below) and you will see little plaques marking these parish boundaries. These type of parish boundary markers are scattered throughout the City. Our downloadable explorers walks on Google Maps available (for free) on our website lostlcp.com will show you some routes to find them. There is also a A4 sized map of the ancient parishes we have published for you to use as a guide.”

Parish markers on a building on Cheapside and, inset, in detail.

9. Have you uncovered any particularly interesting stories in your research into London’s lost churches?
“I think one the most interesting things is the unusual names and how they were derived: Benet Fink, Stephen Coleman, Mary Somerset, Martin Ludgate and Gabriel Fenchurch. Couldn’t these be the names in an Agatha Christie mystery where the key to the murder is church themed aliases? But seriously, every church has a rich history since most were established before 1200 so in visiting them you are trekking right back to medieval times.”

10. And lastly, do you have a favourite “lost” London church?
“My favourite is St Mary Abchurch just off Cannon Street. It is not only the headquarters of the ‘Friends of the City Churches’ charity but also a perfect jewel of a Wren church with the most glorious painted ceiling – like a secret Sistine chapel!”

This Week in London – ‘Hidden Highlights’ at Westminster Abbey; food and Black entrepreneurship; and, ride the Dodgems at Somerset House…

Westminster Abbey Library, part of of the ‘Hidden Highlights’ tour. PICTURE: Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

A lost medieval sacristy used by Westminster Abbey’s monks in the 13th-century which has been revealed in the abbey grounds has been opened to the public. A visit to the dig uncovering the former sacristy is one of the stops on new ‘Hidden Highlights’ tours which also take in other areas not usually open to the public including the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV died in 1413 and, the Library, formerly part of the monk’s dormitory which features a 15th century oak roof and 17th century bookcases (pictured above). The tour, which finishes in the Diamond Jubilee Galleries which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, is part of a summer of events at the abbey which also includes open air cinema, visits to the abbey after dark, live music performances and a chance to look behind the scenes at the abbey’s role in the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/lost-medieval-sacristy-opens-to-public-for-summer-festival-of-events.

A new exhibition looking at the central role food plays in Black entrepreneurship and identity in the city’s south east has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Feeding Black: Community, Power & Place puts four businesses in the spotlight – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Woolwich businesses African Cash & Carry and Junior’s Caribbean Stall, and Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell – and tells their stories through objects, recipes and videos as well as newly commissioned photography by Jonas Martinez and original oral histories and soundscapes by Kayode ‘Kayodeine’ Gomez. The free display can be seen until 17th July next year in the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Ride the dodgems at Somerset House. Dodge, described as a “thrilling open air experience” that takes an “inventive twist on the traditional fairground”, features dodgem cars and installations from acclaimed artists as well as food and drink and DJ sets. The event runs until 22nd August. There is free entry to the site but charges apply for the dodgem rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk. The event is part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, described as the “biggest domestic tourism the capital has ever seen”.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 London hills – 9. Highgate Hill…

Highgate Hill seen from Hampstead Health (with the spire of St Michael’s visible). PICTURE: Adrian Scottow (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.

The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.

Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.

Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).

Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).

10 London hills – 8. Harrow Hill…

The Harrow School (left) and St Mary’s Church on top of Harrow Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

This hill in outer north-west London, which rises 124 metres (408 feet) above sea level, is the location of the village Harrow-on-the-Hill.

The hill’s name is said to refer to a Saxon place of worship and was later taken to mean the Christian church that stood upon it.

That church – the historic St Mary’s, the latest incarnation of a Christian church which has stood on the hill since the Norman Conquest – dominates the hill to this day. Nearby is a spot called King Charles’ Well where King Charles I is said to have stopped and taken one last look at London as he made his way from Oxford to surrender to the Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.

The other famous landmark atop the hill, opposite the church, is the world renowned Harrow School, founded under a Royal Charter by John Lyon in 1572, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The hill is also host to a Grade II-listed war memorial and a fine array of historic homes dating from the Georgian period to the early 20th century. Among this who have lived on the hill are 19th. century critic and writer Matthew Arnold and 19th century Scottish author RM Ballantyne.

Panoramic views of Central London can be seen from the top of the hill and there is a famous viewpoint in the churchyard known as Lord Byron’s View, which looks away to the north-west. It’s so-called because Byron, while a schoolboy at Harrow, was a frequent visitor to the spot by a tombstone – called the “Peachy Tomb”- where he would apparently spend time “dreaming”.

Byron’s View atop Harrow on the Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

10 London hills – 2. Cornhill…

Looking along the street named Cornhill from its western end with the Royal Exchange on the left. PICTURE: Teseum
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.

In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.

Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.

Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.

These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).

The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.

The area became famed for its coffee houses in the 16th to 19th centuries (Pasqua Rosée opened what is claimed to be London’s first in St Michael’s Alley in 1652) and as such was a financial centre. Much of Cornhill is now occupied by offices.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

This Week in London – English Heritage sets out timetable for reopening; Westminster Abbey a vaccination clinic; and, rare meteorite arrives at Natural History Museum…

Eltham Palace grounds in south-east London. PICTURE: Gordon Joly (licensed under CC BY SA 2.0)

English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.

It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.

Meteorite recovered from Winchcombe PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

PICTURE: Morgaine (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

High profile and influential though he was during his lifetime – serving as Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, it was the brutal and shocking nature of Thomas Becket’s death that ensured he would be remembered down through the ages.

Already strained, relations between King Henry II and Becket took a further downturn after the Archbishop excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the Archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, thanks to their role in crowning Henry, the Young King, in York, without the Archbishop’s permission.

On hearing the news of the excommunication, King Henry II is said to have uttered those immortal words, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (although there is considerable dispute over exactly what he said – contemporary biographer (and Canterbury monk) Edward Grim, for example, has the quote as: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”).

Whatever the exact words, the King’s utterance – made while he was at Bur-le-Roi near Bayeaux in modern France – was interpreted as a command by four knights who were present – Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton. Leaving the castle, they set out for England to confront the Archbishop.

The knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December, 1170, and informed Becket that he was commanded to go to Winchester to answer for his actions. Becket refused and the knights, retrieving weapons and armour they had stashed outside the cathedral, returned to the cathedral and hunted down Becket (who had apparently ordered the doors to remain open) with swords in their hands.

They found him at a door to the cloister near the stairs leading up to the cathedral quire where monks were chanting vespers. Becket is reported to have said “I am no traitor and I am ready to die” before one of the knights tried to pull him inside. Grabbing a pillar, he refused to go. The knights then struck him with a series of blows on the head which proved fatal.

A modern memorial to Becket which features a statue depicting him lying back with his hand raised as though to ward off blows as he is attacked, is located in St Paul’s Churchyard. The statue, which is made from resin coloured to appear as bronze, is the work of Bainbridge Copnall and was created in 1970 as part of commemorations marking 800 years since his death. It was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1973.

It was damaged by a falling cherry tree in 1987 but was restored by a student of Copnall.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 4. London churches…

Around 1145, Thomas Becket left the household of the financier Osbert Huitdeniers and entered the household of Theobold, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It’s unclear how he made the transition, although it has been speculated it was possibly through family connections, but by the following year, he was well-ensconced as a clerk in the archbishop’s household.

Like many great households, the Archbishop’s moved between various residences including his palace beside Canterbury Cathedral, various manors and the royal court (Lambeth Palace, the current home of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London was constructed after Becket’s death).

St Mary le Strand as it is today. PICTURE: James Stringer (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Becket rose in the Archbishop’s favour and while serving in his household was given the living of churches including St Mary le Strand in London and Otford in Kent as well as being made a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (he wasn’t expected to attend the churches to receive the incomes).

The current St Mary le Strand dates from the early 18th century; the church from which Thomas drew an income was an earlier versions and stood a little to the south of the current building.

St Paul’s, meanwhile, was an early version of the pre-Great Fire of London version of the building. During Becket’s time, the grand structure was still under construction (building had been disrupted by a fire in 1135 and the cathedral wasn’t consecrated until 1240, well after Becket’s death).

The present cathedral has a rather spectacular statue of Becket in the churchyard (but we’ll deal with that separately in a later post in this series).